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UGA Summer Marine Science Camps foster curiosity through coastal exploration

By: Emily Woodward
UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

The floor is littered with markers, paper plates and half-eaten pizza. For the past two hours, marine education interns have been creating paper plate awards for campers participating in Summer Marine Science Camps at the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island.

On the plates are drawings depicting awards like enthusiastic ecologist, coastal naturalist and blue crab queen. Each award is unique and designed to showcase a camper’s individual personality or interests.

A Women in Science summer camp group heads out on the water.

The plates are presented to the campers on the last day of camp during a ceremony attended by parents and staff.

“The paper plate creations are a great example of the commitment our summer camp team has to making Friday awards ceremony a special and memorable for each camper,” says Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “In many ways, the paper plate awards ceremony is the heart of the summer camp experience.”

This particular awards ceremony will wrap up the 25th year of summer camps. Since 1993, about 5,500 children have explored the coast, and learned about the importance of marine ecosystems through hands-on activities.

Each camp session is geared towards a different age group. Activities range from salt marsh explorations to squid studies in the lab and, for older campers, trawling aboard the R/V Sea Dawg. Guest researchers are often invited to lead experiential learning activities that not only teach campers how the scientific method can be applied to projects, but also expose campers to the multidisciplinary world of marine science.

This year, the Women in Marine Science Camp, for girls 12 to 14, featured four female researchers who work in different fields of marine science at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. During activities led by the researchers, campers learned how to identify phytoplankton, which are tiny microscopic organisms living in coastal waters, and built their own autonomous underwater vehicles.

“It is especially valuable for young girls to witness female professionals because it fosters a sense of inclusion,” said Julia Diaz, assistant professor of marine sciences. Diaz led an activity that involved measuring levels of phosphate in water samples collected near Skidaway Island.

“It was rewarding to see the girls enjoying the activity and discussing the topic among themselves,” Diaz said. “It showed that they were interested and engaged in the experience.”

The activity made an impression on Atlanta resident Kennedy Johnson, 12, who participated in the Women in Marine Science Camp.

“I learned much more than I already knew, and, after I came home, my passion grew for wanting to be a marine biologist,” Kennedy said.

At the core of Summer Marine Science Camp is providing opportunities that connect campers to the natural world and encourage them to be good stewards of the coastal environment through outdoor exploration.

“While they are here, I want campers to gain confidence to ask questions and inquire scientifically,” Lindsay said. “My hope is that they leave with positive feelings about themselves and their ability to explore.”

Annual open house attracts large crowd

More than 2,400 visitors attended Skidaway Marine Science Day on Saturday, October 13. This campus-wide open house event was sponsored by UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The free event included a wide range of displays, tours and activities for children and adults.

UGA Skidaway Institute student receives national fellowship

Recently graduated Skidaway Institute graduate student Christine Burns has been awarded a prestigious John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship.

The Knauss Fellowships are sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Sea Grant. The National Sea Grant College Program provides one-year fellowships to work in federal government offices in Washington, D.C. Burns is one of 66 finalists in the class of 2019.

The fellowships are open to students finishing a master’s, doctorate or law degree program with a focus or interest in marine science, policy or management. The applicants undergo a rigorous selection process at both the state and national level. Burns traveled to Washington, D.C. this fall to interview with several executive and legislative offices. She has been assigned to the NOAA Office of Coast Survey as the Precision Navigation Fellow.

Burns successfully defended her master’s thesis in November and received her degree in December. Her faculty advisors were Clark Alexander and Merryl Alber. Burns received her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientists publish two papers on Arctic processes

The Arctic is experiencing the effects of climate change faster than anywhere on the planet, yet it is one of the least understood regions, due largely to the difficulty of making observations and collecting samples there. With the support of National Science Foundation funding, two University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists are studying the biogeochemical processes in the Arctic and recently had their research published in two peer-reviewed science journals.

Postdoctoral researcher Christopher Marsay and assistant professor Clifton Buck have been participants in the international GEOTRACES program which aims to improve the understanding of biogeochemical cycles in the ocean, focusing on important trace elements. Trace elements are present in the ocean in very low concentrations, however some of those elements are essential for marine life and can influence the functioning of ocean ecosystems while others are potentially toxic to plants and animals.

Cliff Buck works with deck equipment during a GEOTRACES cruise in the Pacific Ocean.

“The Arctic part of the GEOTRACES program is particularly important because the region is already showing significant changes as a result of climate change and is relatively poorly studied with respect to many trace elements,” Marsay said.

Marsay is the lead author on both papers, which are the result of analysis of samples he collected on a 64-day GEOTRACES cruise from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to the North Pole and back from August through October 2015.

“On this cruise, our research goals were to describe the chemistry of atmospheric deposition to the region,” Buck said. “These data will then be shared with the scientific community to help better understand biogeochemical cycling of trace elements in the Arctic Ocean.”

The first paper, published in the journal Chemical Geology, describes the concentrations of 11 trace elements in atmospheric samples that Marsay collected during the cruise by pumping large volumes of air through filters. The sources of this material could include natural material from land surfaces, smoke and soot from burning vegetation, and emissions from industrial activity.

“We compare the results to other ocean regions and speculate as to the sources of the material reaching the Arctic,” Marsay said. “An important part of the work is that we used the concentration data to estimate how much of these chemicals settle from the atmosphere to the surface of the ocean.”

In addition to Marsay and Buck, co-authors included David Kadko from Florida International University, William Landing and Brent Summers from Florida State University, and Peter Morton from the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

The second paper was published in the journal Marine Chemistry. In it, Marsay and his co-authors examine trace elements in Arctic melt ponds. Melt ponds are a widespread feature of the sea ice in the Arctic during the summer months. As snow melts it forms ponds on top of the ice which eventually drain into the surface ocean.

Chris Marsay collecting samples at the North Pole.

“Melt ponds are an important intermediate step in atmospheric deposition to the surface ocean that is unique to the polar regions and not very well studied,” Marsay said. “Ongoing climate change in the Arctic will change this pathway, and we want to know how that may affect distribution and biological availability of trace elements in the surface ocean.”

The paper brought together measurements of several trace elements made by different research groups involved in the GEOTRACES project. It showed that the chemistry in melt ponds is also influenced by material in sea ice and the seawater beneath the ice, which modifies the chemistry of material deposited from the atmosphere before it reaches the surface ocean.

Additional co-authors on the paper included Ana Aguilar-Islas from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Jessica Fitzsimmons, Laramie Jensen and Nathan Lanning from Texas A&M University, Mariko Hatta from University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Seth John and Ruifeng Zhang from the University of Southern California, David Kadko from Florida International University, William Landing from Florida State University, Peter Morton from the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Angelica Pasqualini from Columbia University, Sara Rauschenberg and Benjamin Twining from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Robert Sherrell from Rutgers University, and Alan Shiller and Laura Whitmore from the University of Southern Mississippi.

The two papers can be accessed through the UGA Skidaway Institute website at:

Wooninck appointed as acting superintendent at Gray’s Reef

Lisa Wooninck began as acting superintendent of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in September 2018. Lisa has a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of California Santa Barbara. Her interest in policy and marine resource management stems from her time as a 2000 Knauss Sea Grant Fellow in former Congressman Sam Farr’s office. She began her NOAA career as a research fishery biologist at NOAA Fisheries headquarters and Santa Cruz lab. Her passion for using science to inform policy however was awakened and she jumped at the opportunity to join the sanctuary team in 2008. She initially worked at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as a policy analyst, and then joined the West Coast Regional team in 2010 as the policy coordinator for the five sanctuaries on the west coast.

Lisa has experience in policy and planning. She has also worked to coordinate conservation and user groups, and state and federal partners to develop integrated ecosystem-based management systems, and ecologically and economically sustainable practices. She has represented sanctuary interests to fishery managers and educated them on the common goals shared by sanctuaries and fisheries management. She has also led an Office of National Marine Sanctuaries team to highlight the world-class recreational activities, such as whale watching and sport fishing, offered by thriving ecosystems of national marine sanctuaries.

Lisa is guided by “malama,” a Hawaiian concept that expresses care, respect and stewardship for the environment and humans, and our obligation to care for both. Lisa also believes strongly in team work and looks forward to working with the GRNMS team, their partners and friends.

Mare Timmons retires after 23 years at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

Mare Timmons, a long-time educator at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, retired at the end of August after 23 years of service to UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

During her years as a marine educator, Timmons provided marine science programming to thousands of students from pre-k to college, visitors and teachers. Her energetic approach to teaching others about the marine world has left lasting impressions on the those who benefited from her institutional knowledge and expertise in marine science.

“Mare’s impact on marine education in the state and on a national level is immense,” said Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “Her fearless, all-in teaching style, and laughter served as the heart of our work here for so many years. We are grateful for her investment in the Georgia coast and the world’s oceans.”

Mare in a Georgia salt marsh.

Timmons is best known for overseeing the Georgia Sea Grant marine education internship, a nationally recognized program designed for recent college graduates who spend a year on Skidaway Island gaining teaching experience in marine science and coastal ecology. Since 1999, more than 100 interns have participated in the program and many have gone on to professional careers in natural resource management, marine policy, classroom and environmental education, marine research and animal husbandry.

“Mare was such a source of inspiration for me as a budding marine science educator. She always encouraged me to stretch the limits and reach my full potential while maintaining my professionalism and adventurous side,” said Jaclyn Miller, a 2011-12 intern, who is now a middle school science teacher in Williamsburg, Va.

Mare teaching a Women in Science summer camp program.

In 2003, Timmons helped designate Skidaway Island as one of the sites in the NOAA Phytoplankton Monitoring Network. As part of this citizen-science initiative, participants collect water samples from the Skidaway River every Thursday and analyze them for the presence of harmful algae that may create water quality issues for fish and other aquatic organisms. For 15 years, Timmons served as site supervisor, coordinating the volunteers who participated in the program.

Timmons focused on reaching new audiences through programming targeted towards underserved demographic groups in marine science. She launched the Women in Marine Science summer camp for girls 12 to 14. She also provided specialized programming for deaf and hard of hearing students at Hesse Elementary in Savannah for several years. She has been instrumental in bringing the work of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to the forefront of the national and international marine education community by sharing programmatic accomplishments and seeking out new collaborative opportunities at state, regional and national conferences.

Prior to her role at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Gant, Timmons spent the early part of her career on the west coast in California, serving as a teaching assistant and research instructor at California State University Long Beach. She also worked as a marine biologist instructor at the San Pedro Science Center in California.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist participates in congressional briefing on plastic pollution

UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Jay Brandes was invited to participate in a congressional briefing titled, “The Ocean Plastic Pollution Problem: Solvable with Science Innovation, and Education.” The briefing was sponsored by the Coalition for Ocean Leadership in conjunction with the House Oceans Caucus and was held in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Jay Brandes (left) discusses marine plastics at the congressional briefing. He was joined on the panel by John Racanelli, president and CEO of the National Aquarium (center), and Scott DeFife, vice president of government affairs of the Plastics Industry Association.

Brandes has been studying the presence of microplastics in Georgia’s coastal waters and represented the research community on a three-person panel. He was joined on the panel by John Racanelli, president and CEO of the National Aquarium, and Scott DeFife, vice president of government affairs of the Plastics Industry Association.

Trash in the ocean is a growing problem. House Oceans Caucus Co-Chair, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, said that the equivalent of one garbage truck of trash enters the ocean every minute. Plastic trash in the environment is particularly detrimental due to plastic’s inherent durability and resistance to biological break down. Plastic products may also release potentially dangerous chemicals as they break down. Current estimates project 155 million tons of plastic in the ocean by 2025.

The three experts agreed that plastics in the environment is not entirely an industry issue but also a consumer problem resulting from bad behavior, such as littering, lack of recycling and the overuse of single-use plastics. It often enters the ocean from overflowing trash and recycling bins, or because waste containers are not readily available.

Brandes reported that microplastic pollution varies widely, with high concentration areas often adjacent to low concentration areas, and cautioned that understanding dynamics in one area does not translate across the globe. He stressed that including citizen scientists — engaged citizens trained by scientists to collect samples — in research could help gather more data across the world.

He pointed out that plastics are not totally resistant to biological breakdown. “If we can cut down on the source of plastic into the environment, nature will do a good job cutting down on the presence,” he said. “We’ve seen that bacteria can break down some plastics.”

Audience questions ranged from health impacts and how to talk about the issue in non-coastal states to a reduction in consumer recycling and plastic alternatives for the fishing industry. Racanelli said, “everyone is downstream from someone,” explaining that plastic in the environment effects everyone.

All panelists agreed that while more time, money and research is needed to understand the problem, the solutions should start now and involve everyone. Tiny pieces of plastic are so pervasive in Georgia’s coastal waters, researchers estimate there are more than a trillion microplastic particles and fibers in the top foot of the state’s inshore waterways.